27 September 2015

Concerning “Beating Yishma’el at His Own Game”: Yitzhak's Legacy

Erev Succoth

This post is dedicated l’iluy nishmath Akiva ben Avraham Avinu v’Sarah Imeinu. May his widow and son know no more sorrow, and merit greeting Mashiach with all Am Yisrael.

Yitzhak is represented by the sefirah of gevurah - the essence of judgment, limitation, awe and fire. "It is the restraining might of gevurah which allows one to overcome his enemies, be they from without or from within (his evil inclination)." Wikipedia

Gevurah, the middah of Yitzchak, is about an inner strength. It demands determination and an unwillingness to quit. It takes great strength to get back up again after falling. Tiferet Center

All Jews know that Yitzhak is the second, middle forefather of the Jewish people, the son of Avraham and Sarah. In fact, most Bible readers know this too, whether Jewish or not. It is also known that, as children, Yishma’el was highly jealous of Yitzhak and tried to kill him, pretending it was a game.

So, let’s start this a little further along. 


Of the three avot, Yitzchak is the least well-developed in the Torah. His story spans barely one parshah, in which he shares center stage with and is often eclipsed by the activities of others-- Avraham during the akeidah (binding of Yitzchak); Yaakov, Eisav, and Rivkah in the struggle over the birthright and blessings. Moreover, when we do encounter Yitzchak in the Torah, he emerges as a most enigmatic figure. Occasionally, he exudes majesty and charisma. This is exemplified by his willing participation in the akeidah and by his dramatic first meeting with Rivkah, in which she literally falls off her camel in his presence (Bereishit 24:64). In other contexts, however, Yitzchak appears to be at least partially manipulated by events that swirl around him and his role is almost transitional, the bridge between a father who was the celebrated founder of monotheism and a nation, and a son, Yaakov, whose evident achievements qualified him to bear the name and legacy of "Yisrael". Yet, Yitzchak's status and stature in Biblical literature and religious history is unquestioned, even as his contribution needs to be more fully assessed and understood. Who is Yitzchak really and what is his legacy?  Read more...

The Significance of the Rehovoth Well

Many teachers and rabbis perceive Yitzhak as restrained and limited to “mundane affairs” and keeping his father Avraham’s flame alive, doing nothing innovative for himself. But they miss the addition of one well – Rehovoth – to the wells he dug, and the struggle with the other two – Esek and Sitnah – that he went through to get there.
If the wicked king Omri (father of Ahab, who was even more wicked) could be praised and merit kingship for the addition of one city to Israel in First Temple times (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 102b), surely the idealistic and righteous Yitzhak must be lauded for the addition of one well! Cities get built around wells, if there are no rivers, lakes and other surface-level bodies of water (such as in much of Israel) …we have the city of Rehovoth to this day; and so Yitzhak’s legacy of building up the land of Israel is revealed in modern, pre-Mashiach times.

The Part Israel Plays…for Jews Today 

What I find in most commentary on Yitzhak is that it all notes the fact that his life and times take place in Israel, but then appears to shunt it aside, as though it has no meaning at all for the Jewish people today. If, as Rav Frand says, we need to take this progenitor of our nation as our model, then we need to study the aspects of all his actions seriously. Consider whether anything Sarah’s son did would have the same meaning anywhere else in the world, or any meaning at all, for that matter.

What I am about to say relates strongly to R' Frand's advice for beating Yishma'el at his own game. He said,

So, what do we do? How do we defeat this enormously powerful enemy called Yishma’el?...From the time that they were children, Yishmael made it his life’s mission to kill Yitzhak. The Pirkei Eliezer says this...Yishma’el never, ever got over that he was not the chosen son; he never got over that he was not the true heir. He never got over that he was not given any portion, any land. Esav got Har Seir. Klal Yisrael got Eretz Yisrael. Yishma’el was left out in the cold, and he has never gotten over that, and he has never forgiven us, and that is why he wants to wrest Eretz Yisrael from us ad hayom hazeh (until this very day).  This goes back all the way to Yitzhak, and that ancient battle continues till today. This not merely a battle about a piece of land called Israel…this is a spiritual battle, this is a cosmic battle that is going on in Himmel, in Shamayim (heaven)... And for us to vanquish Yishma’el, we must adhere to the legacy of our grandfather Yitzhak Avinu more than the way the Arabs and the Bnei Yishma’el and…the adherents of Islam, adhere to their legacy that they got from Yishma’el. That’s what the battle is about, that’s where it’s going to be won. Who is going to be a better grandson of their grandfather? Who’s going to be more makpid  on the legacy of their grandfather? We or them? The B’nei Yitzhak or the B’nei Yishma’el? And the more successful, and the more passionately, and the more religiously we adhere to that legacy, we will be successful…who is going to be a better adherent to the traditions of their grandfather. (emphasis mine)

Rav Frand goes on to define the essence of Yitzhak, including two components: Av Avodah (Pillar/Father of Prayer) and Moser Nefesh (Sacrifice of Self – putting one’s self in harm’s way to obtain a worthy goal)  – and then points out that Yishma’el is just as good, if not better, than we are at these things. My only question is: As important as proper attire and decorum during prayer are – and of course we should take more care with them than for a job interview! – and as important as standing up to our bosses when it comes to taking off from work when haShem wants us to – where does the legacy of our grandfather regarding Eretz Yisrael fit in? When is each and every Jew, whether we live in Israel or outside – even those who refuse to come home – going to insist on taking back what Yitzhak handed us as an inheritance and a heritage? It might be said that Yishma’el is better than us at this, too. Who controls the Temple Mount, and who moves freely there, doing as they please (certainly not what haShem wants, either from them or from us)? They do. Who allows them to hold that exalted place, while we are not allowed to move our lips, even to drink a glass of water? We do, to our shame.

Yishma’el’s Remorse

Not to mention that Yishma’el, when he matured, repented of his attitude toward Yitzhak: He walked behind his younger brother at their father’s funeral (Bereshith 25:9). As elder brother, he had every right to go first; but because of the written Torah there, we learn that Yishma’el had had a better understanding, and thus a change of heart (Rav Frand teaches us this here, citing Rashi, who bases his commentary on Bava Bathra 16b.). But did his descendants get the message? From our standpoint today, the answer must have been NO; or else, they were as rebellious and lacking proper respect and behavior as Yishma’el had prior to his teshuvah. Therefore, unfortunately for us and for the whole world, in our day we cannot affirm that Yishma’el’s repentance was complete. Therefore, we must not accept his children lording over us, especially in Eretz Yisrael, and most especially, on Har haBayit.

Shame on us if we cannot turn this around because we must take orders from the nations!


Perhaps haShem’s purpose of deliberately keeping our second Forefather’s story as an adult short and contained in Parashath Toledoth is in some sense prophetic and bears a message for us. We — like Ya’aqov Avinu when he took Esav’s place and the blessing Yitzhak intended for him (the latter having mistaken Esav’s toughness for the strength needed to keep the world going in the correct path, not knowing that his favorite son was a murderer, thief, philanderer, etc…) — need to prove that we have the gevurah, the guts and the emunah to overcome our predicament, to get to the other side of our complete redemption with haShem’s help and oversight.

I propose that we add a new Hebrew phrase to Rav Frand's, to complete the third component of Yitzhak Avinu's legacy discussed here: Our forefather Yitzhak Avinu was Av Bniyath Eretz Yisrael (Pillar of Building Up the Land of Israel) — if for no other reason than because of the Rehovoth well. Let us continue in his path.

Am Yisrael Chai!!!!

May the Jewish nation be blessed during this week of Succoth, and hereafter, forever.

May the Rav’s nephew, Shmuel Aryeh ben Malka Feige, continue to receive a refuah shleimah.

22 September 2015

Teshuva: Focus BIG!

9 Tishrei 5776
Erev Yom haKippurim

***Neat Update Below***

We all feel the Yom Kippur cloud hanging over our heads, as a friend said to me the other day.  I think we need to think bigger this year. 

  1. What do we think of the Jewish people: Are we only a religion, or do we need to think bigger than that? How do we think a change in perspective our place in the world, regardless of what it thinks — might affect our everyday relationships with our parents, our children, our friends and neighbors, and others around us? With HaShem?
  2. The Torah affirms that there are some things we cannot help, however much we want to. We can choose our friends and spouse, but not those who raised us and those we were raised with. Many of us were born into unfortunate situations, but we still can, and therefore must, choose wisely for the future. “The hand we were dealt with” has been increasingly more difficult over the generations. All the more reason to promise ourselves and G-d that we will strive harder to overcome our past.
  3.  Imagine if you had heard that Eliyahu haNavi was going around speaking with people and knew Mashiach was announced. Let us prepare now, so we will not do and say things we will regret forever.
  4.  Remember that Yom Kippur is not only for the forgiveness of sin, but also for becoming more sensitive to others’ needs. Speaking of which, if I have hurt, insulted or otherwise pained you, please forgive me. I haven't meant it and will try to do better this year!

G’mar Hatimah Tovah!

More reading and viewing:

Better to be safe than sorry! Be ready by Succoth! 
גמר חתימה טובה

UPDATE: I found an interesting explanation of "sinath hinam" here, from both Bavli and Yerushalmi Talmuds.

18 September 2015

Concerning “Beating Yishma’el at His Own Game”

5 Tishrei 5776
5th Day of Awe

Concerning “Beating Yishma’el at His Own Game” - a Teshuva Drosha by the maggid shiur Rabbi Yissocher Frand


NOTE: The picture above is yet another example of using the name Palestine to refer to something JEWISH.

I listened to what seems to be the Rav’s Teshuva Drosha for 5776, "How to Beat Yishma’el at His Own Game," several times over the last few days. It is one of the most powerful I have ever heard, and not only because the voice of the Rav projects well. 

I understand how hard it is to speak with Jews in chutz la’aretz about making major changes in their lives and attitudes – I’ve been there, and been one of those people. But I’m here in Israel now, in Yerushalayim – not in Ir haAtika; nevertheless, in Ir haKodesh

The Rav spoke movingly, lovingly and with great concern for me and my brothers and sisters here in the Land of the Jews. Clearly he has been here and seen what goes on here.

Since he wants to convince people to take Yitzhak Avinu as their role model for mesirath nefesh as well as prayer, I hope I can help, even a little, by suggesting that he include the following well-known merits of our middle Forefather:

  1.   He lived his entire life in Eretz haKodesh, Eretz Yisrael. He never stepped one foot outside its borders. Everything he did was in this context.
  2. Yishma'el, his elder brother, desired to kill him from childhood on, as the Rav points out; this is still going on today. I might add only that the teshuva he did when their father passed away must not have been sufficient, since his descendants do not seem to have remembered it; and even if they do, they still do not honor it.
  3.  He offered his life on Har haMoriah – what we know today as the Temple Mount, Har haBayit. HQB”H had other plans that day, and so we have our forefather Ya’aqov and the Twelve Tribes…and the lineage that continues until today and beyond.
  4. He re-dug the wells that Avraham his father had originally dug and had subsequently been filled in by the Philistines, thus reclaiming the land near Gaza that they were located on - and, not being satisfied with this, he dug three more: Esek (which today means business, but is often translated contention), Sitna (accusation, incitement, slander and denunciation) and Rehovoth (wide open spaces). (Note that although the Philistines had never dug the first two of these wells, they claimed them for their own, hence their names. Sound familiar? Have we learned the lesson yet?) Bereshith 26:15-24
  5. It's a funny-strange thing: While Jews can pray at the Ma’arat haMachpela, we are not allowed to pray by Yitzhak Avinu, but only by his father Avraham and his son Ya’aqov. It seems that Yitzhak is the key to securing our heritage and inheritance. The Yishmaelite Muslims know that, so they keep us away from him.
Yitzhak Avinu's and Rivka Imenu's graves as they are today. Jews are not allowed to visit them. This picture came from islamiclandmarks.com.

Kol hakavod to the Rav for what he did say (perhaps he felt he got his words in edgewise)! I wish him success in getting his hearers to dress up for davening, pray with more concentration, and give more of themselves. Surely he could go one step further and inspire them to come and live in the land of Yitzhak Avinu, and help us rise up and defend her. Yes, it is very different from what it was then. But we in Israel need Jews with serious mesirath nefesh now. Here is the story of a young, obviously-religious Jew who had to run through a gauntlet of Arabs after having been to Har haBayit. They have a still picture of him fallen to the ground and the women gloating over him as if he were dead. But if you watch the video, he was on the ground only a split second. He escaped to safety, thank G-d – but he got a grilling by security. 

Would decent Jews stand for that? I think not. In fact, here is the response of 150 fellow yeshiva bachurim to this near-lynching. Does this qualify as a good start on self-sacrifice?

I don’t need to argue with a Rav who has his values on straight, who speaks straight from the heart and is respected by those who hear him. But I think I need to pick him up a little and tell him that he needs to finish the job.

Make aliyah. Because it's hard. Because Yitzhak Avinu would have, if he'd had to.

May the Rav’s nephew, Shmuel Aryeh ben Malka Feige, have a refuah shleimah.

May all my readers be inscribed for good (and not for bad) in the Book of Life.

Many thanks to R’ Yeranen Yaakov for posting a link to the shiur on his blog. Click on the file that results when you click this link, to download it or listen to it.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: 4000 Karlin Hassidim prayed Selichoth by Yitzhak Avinu last night in the video below. I found out from a trusted friend that police had to clear the way for them. Many thousands more Jews will visit Hevron in the coming days before Yom Kippur. A7

VERY IMPORTANT UPDATE: We will NOT beat Yishma'el at his own game if he continues to OCCUPY THE TEMPLE MOUNT. Obvious, right? 

Step 1: Sign this petition: 1 Million for a Jewish Temple Mount! Petition | GoPetition